National Space Symposium Provides Forum for Civil Space Concerns
In its program statement released April 12, The Space Foundation touted global space business growth during a tough economic climate. In 2009, the space industry took in $261.6 billion, a 7 percent increase from 2008 and 40 percent over the past five years.
“The industry continued expanding in early 2010, reflecting greater demand for a wide range of space-related products and services — including low-cost GPS hardware embedded in cars and phones, communications services, and control of a growing number of unmanned aerial vehicles,” the organization said.
Civil Space Concerns
Despite the optimistic numbers, U.S. President Barack Obama’s termination of NASA’s Orion program, announced in February along with a new direction for NASA funding, was the looming issue for attendees.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told anxious audience members at Tuesday’s keynote speech that the new direction for NASA, outlined in the 2010 fiscal year governmental budget, should be seen as a transformative effort rather than a massive budget cut. “Both NASA and the president are absolutely committed to a vibrant future for human spaceflight,” he said. “… We will use innovative technologies developed in a step-wise approach.”
Some audience members remained skeptical. One NASA official, who asked not be name, said Obama’s budget looks for answers to NASA’s problems in the wrong direction. “Instead of handing off space exploration development to private companies, I think Obama should fix the problems at NASA that got it into its mess in the first place. The Orion project needed better and more efficient management, and I think we will end up throwing a lot of good work to waste.”
Obama reaffirmed his support for NASA’s space programs in an April 15 speech at the Kennedy Space Center, outlining his expectations that U.S. space exploration will reach beyond the moon and further into the solar system’s reaches by 2025.
Obama said he “remains 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future,” but defended his plans to use federal funding to bring more private companies into space exploration following the retirement of the space shuttle program. “We want to leap into the future, not continue on the same path as before. … The bottom line is: Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, the human exploration of space, than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way,” the President said.
While Obama’s NASA policy has its share of critics, the plan also has supporters in the U.S. commercial launch industry.
For military space applications, addressing the need for space situational awareness was at the top of the list of concerns for U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III, who spoke with conference attendees April 14 about the dangers of congested space.
The U.S. Department of Defense “will work closely with foreign governments to ensure that all space-faring nations obey the same procedures when operating satellites in orbit. We need to share rules of the road in space to provide predictability. … There must be better coordination between nations to ensure that spacecraft do not collide with each other or with the growing amount of space debris,” said Lynn.
Space congestion also will lead to more difficult interference issues, according to Lynn. Interference, which hampers bandwidth efficiency needed for high-demand military applications such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), will only be intensified by the projected 9,000 transponders that will be transmitting sa-com signals by 2015 and an increasing reliance on commercially provided military satcom.
To battle these issues, Lynn said the Pentagon is endorsing and developing an Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) concept for U.S. Strategic Command, which will launch its first ORS-1 satellite later this year. The program not only provides space management applications but space defense capabilities as well.
Lynn also referenced a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program, "fractured satellites," which includes a variety of spacecraft components installed aboard a handful of smaller communications and remote sensing payloads. The program is important to the military because it spreads out the military architecture over a larger network, preventing hostile forces from taking out the entire system. “If one component fails, the operator would only have to replace one of the satellites instead of the entire system.”
According to Lynn, the program, which is set to complete reviews this summer, will promote competition among small satellite manufacturers to compete for contracts.